Are re-entry tournaments unfair?

Are poker tournaments better off because of the inflated prize pools, or are they unfair to recreational players who don't have deep pockets?

Being John Malkovich
Is it fair to play against the same player again and again after they bust?

One of the most recurring debates in poker in recent years as been whether re-entries help or harm tournaments. The debate is happening quite passionately again right now on Twitter during the Five Diamond World Classic. 

This year the WSOPE Main Event became a re-entry for the first time, the numbers in partypoker MILLIONS have been so impressive in part because it is a robust re-entry/phase format and even flagship online events like the Sunday Million and WCOOP Main Event have become re-entries in recent years.

I must admit when re-entries started to become popular I was quite a cheerleader for them. Anything that inflates the prize pool is usually a good thing in my opinion and, unlike a traditional ‘rebuy’ format, most re-entries require a busted player to leave the table and in some cases wait until the next day. The way I perceieve them, it is a bit like the busted player is a 'new' player, drawn at a new table, rather than the same player staying put and rebuying. 

A sporting chance

Negreanu wsop
Daniel Negreanu famously rebought 46 times in the same MTT

Perception is everything, however, and what I considered ‘common sense’ very few people agreed with. Over the years I have continually heard recreational players complain about the fact that they only get one shot at the event, while the professionals can gamble against them recklessly, knowing they can fire another bullet.

So I think I was probably wrong that re-entries ‘benefited everyone’. If casual players think they give an unfair advantage to rich professionals, then we need to take that seriously. There is also an argument that a traditional freezeout is more ‘pure’ because everyone has the same, one, shot at the title. This is simply not true in re-entries, and while it is not ‘unfair’ that the pro can afford to buy-in many times (because they worked hard to become a bankrolled to do so) within the confines of the individual game I can see why recreational players find it less ‘sporting’.

There is also something quite cynical about a pro taking a gamble against a recreational player they wouldn’t otherwise do, just because they can re-enter. As I have written before, we casual players actually don’t mind the skill gap, on the occasions where we win, we wanted the pros to have been playing well.

Likewise, some of these re-entry events allow entry as late as near the end of Day 2 with a reasonable stack. I can completely understand why a recreational player would be annoyed if they grinded hard for two days only to have a pro join their table on their third bullet, double up a few times, then bust them before the money. It’s perfectly within then rules, it just feels unfair because of how much personal time was invested in the event for the casual player.

Money vs experience

WSOPE re-entry
For many the size of the prize pool will always be key

What is best for tournaments, like most things, depends on what you value. If you are in it for pure experience I think a traditional freezeout is much more enjoyable for the reasons stated above. However, for many the real USP of a poker tournament product is the money at the end of it. While recreational players want to have fun, they also care about the money. The times they make the money they obviously appreciate the pumped up prize pool. As I wrote last month, this is the crux of the PokerStars Championship vs partypoker MILLIONS, one is more of a purist experience, the other is value for money, both are good things.

I’m a recreational player and I have no problem with re-entries. I think this is because I recognise that the odds are stacked against me already and I need to get quite lucky either way if I am going to make the money. I’m certainly not arguing against them because ultimately I think I prefer the bigger prize pools they foster.

I don't think they are unfair, but I can recognise why they are percieved to be unfair by a substantial amount of amateur players, and if that's how they feel, they might stop playing them. I'm pretty OK with re-entry tournaments as long as there is plenty of choice to also play traditional freezeouts elsewhere, but we don't want to judge their success purely on the numbers because that only tells half the story. 

Do you think re-entries hurt or help poker? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (5)

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  • semiramiRNMD


    I don't get the idea. If the pro wants to gamble that's a chance for the fish to take some chips from him. If it was a freezout the pro would play his top game from the begining and will likely bust the fish much sooner. Some bad players always try to find an excuse.
  • CucumbaMan


    I don't think it is unfair either. If you have been knocked out with a cooler, I think you have a legit reason to re-enter and try again.
  • VorpalF2F


    I felt the same way about Rebuy/Addon tournaments before. However I realized that all I had to do was enter tournaments such that the TOTAL investment would fit my BRM. So if I enter a $1.10 tournament, I can fire 4 bullets, but a $5.50 only 2.
    Also, I won't re-enter or rebuy if by doing so I have less then 1/2 average stack.
  • worldvet


    I agree with semiramiRNMD entirely.
  • Zeezout


    I wouldn't mind re-entries, but I can understand why some players don't like them. Same with very late registration, many rebuys etc.

    For the amateur, it feels like he'll have to struggle longer to get ITM and for many recreational players, getting ITM in a big tournament is a goal itself. They don't think about better payouts etc., just want to brag about being ITM.

    So to keep them satisfied, there should not be too many tournaments with re-entry, very late registration etc. Keep it balanced, so everybody is happy :P